Kurdish network behind Germany threat warning?
by Lorenzo Vidino
May 12, 2007
Last night Reuters reported that the recent threat warning issued by the United States in Germany could, according to some US officials, involve attack plans by an al Qaeda-affiliated group of Kurdish militants. Information on the threat have been very limited (interestingly, German newspapers barely mention it) and officials, while stepping up security around American diplomatic, military and tourist facilities in Germany, have said they are not aware of the details of the alleged plot. While it is necessary to wait for the necessary confirmations on both the "Kurdish link" and the attack itself, the Kurdish trail for a hypothetical terrorist attack in Germany makes a lot of sense, given the well established presence of Kurdish militants in major cities of (mostly southern) Germany and their proven determination to carry out attacks there. Here is some background, taken from my book al Qaeda in Europe:
…….Not only was the alleged leader of the network [recruiting for Iraq and dismantled in Italy in 2003], Abderrazak Mahdjoub, based in Hamburg, but the wiretaps and the confessions of the two Kurds arrested in Parma made clear that Ansar al Islam had its European base in Germany—specifically, in Munich. One of the Kurds from Parma admitted to Italian interrogators that on several occasions, he had traveled to Munich and given money to a man named Omeid Adnan Bamarni, also known as "Doctor Omeid." Further investigation proved that Doctor Omeid was the moneyman of the organization, collecting the funds gathered by various groups of Ansar al Islam sympathizers spread throughout Europe. The money, transported to Kurdistan by young Kurdish immigrants claiming to be returning their native country in order to visit their families, was used mostly to finance Ansar al Islam's camps.
Other evidence confirmed that Munich was the decision-making as well as the financial hub for the group's European operations, hosting a key logistics cell. Under the leadership of a 30-year-old Kurd named Mohammed Loqman, the group organized safe houses, recruited volunteers, and raised money for "the brothers" in Kurdistan. Investigators found that a major source of its financing was the smuggling of illegal Kurdish immigrants into Europe. The Munich group worked closely with the two Kurds living in Parma, who ran a safe house there for immigrants. After paying thousands of dollars to the smugglers, the Kurds entered Europe from Greece and Italy, and then were sent to settle in wealthier countries, such as Germany, Great Britain, and Switzerland. The profits of this scheme, often the life savings of young Kurds, were sent back to Kurdistan to finance the activities of Ansar al Islam. Ironically, the immigrants were unwittingly financing the very activities that some of them had left Kurdistan to escape.
The information provided by the Italians on the group operating in Munich led German authorities to open an investigation into Loqman's cell. A first round of arrests hit the Munich cell in March 2003. German authorities charged Bamarni, the moneyman of the group, and a dozen other Kurds with facilitating illegal immigration into Germany. The Bavarian minister of the interior said that, before his arrest, Bamarni had raised almost a million euros. As German authorities began to gather evidence for their case against the key players of the cell, they uncovered new information on the network's activities.
Months of intercepted conversations and tailing confirmed that Munich was the headquarters of Ansar al Islam's operations in Germany and also revealed that the network's reach across the country, as other cells were active in Stuttgart, Berlin, Hamburg, Duisburg, Cologne, Ulm, and Frankfurt. Investigators estimate that at least 100 members of Ansar al Islam are currently active in Germany. The number of Muslims who have been recruited by the group to fight in Iraq is unclear, but they believe that from Bavaria alone, between 10 and 50 militants have left the region to join Ansar al Islam in Iraq. Among them reportedly was a 27-year-old courier who traveled twenty times between Germany and Iraq before his March 2004 arrest by Iraqi authorities. German authorities believe that at least two of the militants recruited by the network went to Iraq determined to die as suicide bombers.
After months of investigation, on December 3, 2003, Bavarian police arrested Loqman, the leader of the cell, inside Munich Central Station, as he was trying to leave Germany. The charges against Loqman are serious: he is accused of being a high-ranking member of Ansar al Islam and of having recruited volunteers to fight coalition forces in Iraq, as well as raising funds and procuring medical equipment for militants fighting in Iraq. Loqman was also involved in smuggling Kurds into Europe—and not merely innocent asylum seekers. According to German federal prosecutors, Loqman was responsible for smuggling members of Ansar al Islam who had been wounded in Iraq into Western Europe for medical treatment. For example, in September 2003, Loqman organized the smuggling in of a severely wounded senior official of the group from Italy via France to Great Britain. The senior official was later identified as Ali Fadhil, a bomb expert who lost his hand in an explosion in Iraq. Loqman allegedly arranged for his treatment in a British clinic, using the same routes that network used to smuggle illegal Kurdish immigrants. Authorities have been unable to locate Fadhil and do not know if the Ansar al Islam official is still in Europe.
Three days after Bavarian police arrested Loqman, another key member of the European network of Ansar al Islam was arrested in Amsterdam: Mullah Braw, Loqman's right-hand man in Munich, who had repeatedly traveled back and forth between Germany and Kurdistan before and after the war began. The 32-year-old Kurd had managed to avoid arrest in Germany and had purchased a one-way ticket from Amsterdam's Schiphol Airport to Istanbul under the name Aziz Hassan, intending to make his way to Iraq. He was detained by Dutch police as he was boarding the aircraft.
As authorities quietly closed in on the two leaders of the Munich cell of Ansar al Islam, a plot linked to the German network of the group made headlines worldwide. On December 6, German authorities arrested three men accused of planning to kill Iraq's interim prime minister, Iyad Allawi, during his visit to Germany. Authorities believe that the unsophisticated plot was hatched on the spur of the moment, but as Michael Ziegler, spokesman for Bavarian security authorities, noted, "the foiled attack on Allawi shows that this group must be considered dangerous also for Europe." The attack was thwarted because the members of Ansar al Islam involved, who had been under surveillance by German police for months, were overheard in late November planning to gather information about Allawi's schedule in Germany and to obtain weapons for a possible operation. On December 2, one day before Allawi's arrival in Berlin, Rafik Y., one of the three men arrested, received authorization from the cell's leader to carry out the attack. Authorities suspected that he intended to murder Allawi at a meeting between the prime minister and a group of exiled Iraqis living in Germany, and the event was canceled at the last minute.
In the following days, police continued to intercept conversations between Rafik Y. and the other two men. Their use of coded language did not prevent investigators from learning that the men planned to carry out an attack on December 6, when Allawi was supposed to meet with German officials at the Berlin headquarters of the Deutsche Bank. On December 5, police observed Rafik Y. walking around the Deutsche Bank building; later, he was overheard informing his accomplices that he had "viewed the building site." In the early hours of December 6, special operations police stormed nine apartments in Berlin, Stuttgart, and Augsburg and arrested Rafik Y. and two of his accomplices. On the 7th a fourth man, a Lebanese national, was arrested in Berlin on suspicion of supporting Ansar al Islam.
The revelation of the plot against Prime Minister Allawi shocked Germany. Whereas once Ansar al Islam had used the country as a logistical base of operation, now it was planning attacks inside the country. And though the target this time was an Iraqi, there was no guarantee that in the future the group would not aim for Germans. "If someone is involved in an attack in Iraq, I am virtually 100 percent convinced that he'll also carry out an attack over here if ordered to do so," said Guenter Beckstein, the top state security official in Bavaria. This fear drove German authorities to act with unprecedented firmness and they decided to dismantle the Ansar al Islam network in the country. On January 12, more than 700 police officers raided dozens of apartments, businesses and mosques, in Munich, Frankfurt, Ulm, Bonn, Duesseldorf, and Freiburg. Twenty-two members of Ansar al Islam were arrested and charged with such crimes as raising money for a terrorist organization and forging documents. And again, in June 2005, 3 Iraqis linked to the individuals who planned to assassinate Allawi were arrested in southern Germany and accused of raising funds for Ansar al Islam.....
The facts described above date back to almost two years ago. Since then more arrests of Ansar al Islam members have been conducted and key players such as Loqman have been convicted (in January 2006, 7 years). Yet the network is still more than active. It will be interesting to see the developments of the case over the next few days to see whether the Kurdish network in Germany was indeed behind the alleged planned attack.